By Gail H.M. Brown, Ph.D.,
After a number of weeks of disagreements between the city and the Jackson City Council on the garbage collection contract which ends today, Thursday, Sept. 30, Jackson’s Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba held a Town Hall Monday, Sept. 27, to, in his own words, “set the record straight.”
“There has been a lot of misrepresentation [and communication] about this,” Mayor Lumumba told a socially distanced crowd of a little more than 100 in the sanctuary of College Hill Missionary Baptist Church.
In setting the record straight, Mayor Lumumba chronicled a timeline and/or timeframe which led to his recent Declaration of Emergency
In sum, the chronology as reported:
The Request for Proposals (RFP) went out in March 2021; the city’s Special Evaluation Committee received several proposals (including one from the current contractor Waste Management, Inc.); the committee selected FCC Environmental Services, LLC’s proposal; and the Mayor takes negotiated contract that included one day a week pick up with five-days a week litter pickup to the council.
“The council votes it down not once but twice,” said the Mayor. This took place in August. Mayor Lumumba also said that one-day a week is a cost-saving measure that other cities are also adopting. Other cities are doing it and see a savings, he pointed out. FCC was going to provide large trash binds to accommodate a once per week collection.
After FCC was voted down twice, the city had to go into negotiation with the next bidder which was the current company, Waste Management, Inc., who has had the city’s garbage collection contract for 36 years.
As the clock ticked toward the Sept. 30 deadline to have a new contract in place, and after negotiations failed with Waste Management, amid the controversy, the Mayor used his authority to exercise a Declaration of Emergency and executed a contract with National Waste United, LLC, a purpose-driven minority coalition of four entrepreneurs led by noted Jackson businessman Socrates Garrett.
However, the Mayor told the attentive audience: “On Wednesday of last week they [the City Council] invalidated or nullified my emergency declaration.”
That nullification ultimately nullified the contract with National Waste United, which had the capacity and the combined years’ experience, etc. to begin garbage collection Oct. 1.
During the town hall, Mayor Lumumba openly explained his displeasure with Waste Management’s performance. He explained how its employees came to him over a year ago with concerns of mistreatment, low pay and lack of benefits. “We have had some of these helpers come and tell us: ‘I’ve work for Waste Management for 13 years; 10 years as temps,” he said. “That means you’ve spent a decade giving your body away, and you’ve had no healthcare benefits,” the Mayor expressed.
He also pointed out that he sat down with Waste Management after that with the workers’ concerns and city’s unsatisfaction with some of their performances. They committed to making corrections but did not, the Mayor stressed.
The Mayor asked former Waste Management employee Calvin Cook who attested to some of the employee concerns. “We were supposed to pick up over 12 tons to get another man. I told them we were picking up over 13. The next week Waste Management said, ‘Hey, you have to pick up 14 tons.’ So, we thought this is a big company; they do what they want.”
Cook, pointing toward a fairly new worker in the audience, told the gentleman that the $15 per hour he’s receiving just recently started.
During the town hall’s question and answer segment, citizens voiced a myriad of robust opinions and concerns, including criticism of the Mayor. “I’m going to operate in the full light of transparency,” said Mayor Lumumba. “I am not above reproach.”
Questions and comments came from a cross-section of the city. Dr. Shelia Bullock who lives in Ward 6 commented that Waste Management collectors in her area have been very respectful and helpful.
“I appreciate that you have a very good experience, but I want to make sure that same level of service you got is applied across the city,” said the Mayor.
Shirley Miller of Ward 3 said, “Jackson is dirty, and it is embarrassing. I personally believe that when some place is dirty and people don’t want to go there, crimes follows. Crimes goes there.” Miller wanted to know whether trash on the streets and illegal dumping could be put into the contract for the next garbage collector. The Mayor reiterated that those kinds of items were in the FCC contract that got voted down.
Belhaven resident John Harrison York simple wanted to know: “Is there anywhere we can we go to find a comparison across all the different contracts that were submitted; apples to apples, line item to line item? Mayor responded that they would talk to legal and see if something like that could be provided.
Dr. Dwayne Pickett, pastor of a local church, said the reason he got involved is because he heard about the plight of the young black men (sanitation workers) who are breaking down their bodies day after day to haul our trash as temps without healthcare benefits. “Mr. Socrates Garrett did not want to get involved in this…the other companies did not want to get involved in this. I called them,” voiced Pickett.
However, he said, “Sometimes, we have to stop being the subs to these major conglomerates whose money does not stay in our city.”
In somewhat of a surprised move Monday morning, Sept. 27, the City Council declared an emergency and approved a 30-day contract with Waste Management, LLC.
The Mississippi Link caught up with the Mayor after the meeting to simply ask: Where do we go from here?” He responded: “Today, the council declared an emergency again and they entered into a contract, which isn’t legal, but they entered into a contract and so what they are purporting to do is have Waste Management pick up your trash Oct. 1.”
The Mayor pointed out that he is going to have to do another RPF and go through the bidding process which takes time. “All this is a lengthy process,” he said.
Eric Williams, a 23-year employee of Waste Management, said he has never personally been mistreated on the job and he does what he can to help residents with their trash collection cans and needs.